Griping About Destructive Nationalism, Part 1

London has been on the news lately, with some good news for a change. Or at least feel-good, not rioting like last year. But let us not forget that the roots of the rioting are there, untouched, and with David Cameron publicly recounting his wet dream of more “welfare cuts” (i.e. cutting services that poor people need), and tax breaks for his rich friends. He is obviously already campaigning for the next General Election, and the Coalition does not figure in his plans. He wants a hard-core Tory government á la Mrs T.

That is naturally speculation on my part, but that is what it sounds like. But I hear echoes of Thatcherite Toryism in his latest speeches to his own. No more warm and cuddly, but Ebenezer Scrooge, all the way. If Tories get an outright majority in next election, look for poll taxes and other ways of keeping the riff-raff from the voting booths.

I’m sorry, I can’t help coming back to this: living as a missionary in London, starting 1981, I saw how many different kinds of people there were. I talked with people of probably all nationalities I could have spontaneously named before, and then some. I realised how many languages there were that I didn’t know. What a world full of different people, and to me it was exhilarating, not frightening. I am not sure whether I may an exception to the rule?

And those lives that I saw were not the ones you have seen depicted on television, even in the grittier programming. I’m not just talking about the squalor, sheer poverty and generations of colonialist abuse. But at that time, London was a city full of foreigners. Some shows make fun of how often people in Britain use the word “foreigner” to denote something like “not belonging, not trustworthy, not one of us”.

And the Empire mentality was still very close to the surface, then. Flag-waving around the Falklands Skirmish (it wasn’t a real war, but it was still dangerous). I guess Britain was, however slowly, going through white man’s burden anxiety and guilt over colonialist/imperialist past. The attitude of Overlords was very strongly there, and difficult to overcome from any side. Naturally, if I go to London, I am the foreigner. But when they come here, I’m still the foreigner to them. They had a difficult time realising that they weren’t the colonialist overlords any longer.

And yet, the Empire was over. Mrs. T was running the nation’s budget like a household budget. She was very aware of pennies, but unable to fathom millions and billions, and how it is created and kept up–and I don not wish for that to be misconstrued as sexism; she was probably smart, but she didn’t trust her own thinking, and was influenced by some obviously Fascist ideas in the 1930s.

I realise that the sexist, posh Tory Public-School Old Boys must have given her a difficult time. She learned to just repeat her opinion with a more authoritative sound, and little by little it became accepted as the Tory Orthodoxy. And she was also good at using the resentment, the “white backlash” against colourful minorities, who were asserting their rights to call the country home. (How about Brixton 1981? Try googling that and see what you find.)

Yet, somehow it could be said that she did a favour to Britain by giving vent to the white backlash so that the National Front was unable to get a sizeable minority in the Parliament. And yet again, meanwhile she prevented those issues from being properly aired, and thus we still have those swastika-spraying idiots banging around in the woodwork. I’d like to share a little experience.

We shared for a time a kitchen with a young man from Pakistan (while I was a missionary 1981-1983), who was asking us questions just to understand the attitudes of the “whites”. Interesting discussions they were. I learned, I hope he learned. My companions didn’t seem that keen on taking part. They were lost most of the time; they couldn’t place Pakistan on a map, and they had no idea of the long history Britain had in common, and clearly aloof at the same time. The Overlords felt little need or incentive to learn about the culture they were destroying around them. And now they wonder why they cannot trust in Pakistan as a partner in Global Security.

I was so delighted by his openness, and lack of condemnation for the colonialist past. I learned new things about Islam, and hopefully he learned that not all Christians had a negative attitude. Sorry, I just got started off on this London thing, what with the Olympics being in the headlines (and I’m probably infringing just by using the word Olympics here–there, that’s the third time).

The situation has given me an idea to reflect upon the flag-waving that is so prevalent around sports, including Olympics (four!), although Olympics is not supposed to be about countries, but athletes. Did you know that it took almost a 100 years for the U.S. to come up with a national flag? You knew, but you had not connected? Anyroad, Nationalism, Nation-state ideology and wrapping yourself in the flag is a fairly new phenomenon in history. Who and when came up with it? My best guess is: Otto von Bismarck (1815 – 1898), who is elevated to the status of “statesman” currently in Wikipedia (the tragedy of open editing).

Bismarck, as the President Minister of Prussia (you could read that also, Minister President or Premier, if you wish) from 1862 on, got from somewhere the idea, that he could unify all German-speaking people into one nation in Europe. They were now all over, in Prussia, Poland, Austria, Hungary and some currently States in the German federal republic, like Bavaria &c. There we actually have a key element of one way to see the Nation-State: A unit, unified by common language. There is a point.

However, we do have a chicken-and-egg situation with it. Did Nationalism and Nation-State come as a result of politically defined sovereignties who needed a unifying element, and thus you come up with, say, German identity, which was the main driver of the Nazi Party, although within its borders there were sizeable minorities, who spoke other languages, were Jews &c. But I think that a careful reading of history reveals Nationalism as largely a convenient concept to be used by power-hungry politicians who can use their “blood and iron” (see “Blood and Soil” speeches to wrap themselves in the national flag (which is why the new political entities needed national flags.

I blame Nationalism for a very large part of the violence perpetrated during the last 200 years. E.g. Soviet Union was supposed to be about internationalism, doing away with the bourgeoisie notion of nation-states, because they were artificial, anyway. Yet, under Stalin, you had mass transports of people from “Soviet Republics” to Russia (mostly Siberia), and forced migration of Russians to these satellites, like the Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, who have a big problem in their hands with their Russian-speaking minority, who naturally were their Overlords until 1990.

We actually are in the beginning of a painful road towards a precipice: We either learn to co-operate as nations (whatever binds us together, but hopefully not tribalism) and leave the flag-waving aside, or we end up destroying our own chances of survival (well, my children and grandchildren). For centuries, these people’s human rights were trodden on coming and going, they were tortured and murdered if they dared speak up about it. So the decision is, to put it simply, hang on to a nationalist ideology that has mostly created problems for civilisations, make selfish decisions based on that, and lose the last chance to reverse Global Warming before the tipping point.

To me, a small triumph was Nelson Mandela‘s State visit in 1996 as President of the Republic of South Africa. Margaret Thatcher, who was sitting there, as “Lady Thatcher”, former PM, had said in 1987 that anyone who thought Nelson Mandela (who was in prison then) and ANC was ever going to form the government of South Africa, lives “in a cloud cuckoo land”. Welcome to Cloud Cuckoo Land, Mrs. T! 😀

Yes, the Cloud cuckoo land had arrived, and Nelson Mandela was speaking in Westminster Hall as a State Visitor with the full regalia that implies. Mrs. T was not happy, nor did she like Mandela’s speech. He was, perhaps, recounting her personal miscalculations and outright misjudgements that she had made without ever meeting a black South African.

I don’t know whether she held on to the end to the propaganda sound bite about ANC as a proxy for the Soviet Communism? I’m not sure how long the people who still earlier this year were changing Mandela’s page in Wikipedia to indicate that he had “confessed” to having been a communist (that was the crime for which he was basically convicted, with no evidence other than some study notes from his personal study program), are going to insist against evidence that this was the case, when the truth is something quite different.

But let’s face it: I would not have blamed them for co-operating with Soviet Communists. They were the only people who were at least in theory willing to grant that people with plentiful pigmentation could actually be humans, with full human rights. Including one person, one vote. And the anti-Communist propaganda succeeded in dividing the blacks, too. To be sure, lots of bribery and betrayal went into, as well. Imagine that situation for a while. South African Liberals were not such rabid racists as the Boer Nationalists, but they wouldn’t accept one person one vote or any other basic human rights for blacks, just treat them a little better, please, so we don’t have such a bad conscience about it.

An incredible amount of lies went into it, and I don’t know that they have all given up on them. At least in the U.S. the old white guys are still very strongly against the idea that if your skin happens to be dark, you are still a human being. To be sure, they speak in code expressions, but they are the same I’ve heard since the 1960s. I was rooting for the black rioters back around the time when Martin Luther King was murdered. They had a real complaint, and they were in a position to finally right the biggest wrong committed when the U.S. was founded: Slavery.

From Slavery we could segway into my planned Part 2, which would look at racism as supported by nationalism. I’ll try to put it together.

By the way, Mrs. T was finally set aside by a man of some conscience, who saw what disasters Thatcher’s privatisation schemes were, how railroads were being ruined, how everything was being driven into ground by money-grubbing crony networks (like IEA, an Ayn Rand fan club before it was fashionable). In that context, it would be fun to know what Mrs. T and Rupert Mudrack were talking about in the meeting in 1979 about which no memo exists. But after that, Mudrack rags started doing headlines that supported the Tory point of view.

The Trade Unions actually did deserve to be taken down a notch in some industries, but destroying them also then lead, through Thatcherism, to the destruction of industrial Middle Class. Civil Servants need food bank aid now, with the fresh cuts. I’m sure that makes them and their children feel appreciated, and rewarded for their hard work. “Rewarding people who work hard and do the right things” is what Cameron and Osborn are always talking about, but it seems to me more like kicking them in the stomach after tripping them over first.

Interestingly, Thatcher says she had to fight hard for everything, but if your father owns two grocery shops and is the local mayor, it is quite unlikely you are very underprivileged. It’s not just stupidity that keeps poor people poor, although it’s very popular to blame them for their own poverty. It is true, that being proactive is good, but it’s arguably easier for you to “go out and do something about it” if your father is a local mayor, and you’re a barrister by training, from Oxford, let’s not forget. She won a scholarship, and probably deserved it. But she didn’t use the brain God gave her, she just absorbed others’ ideas.


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